Brazil coach Tite considers Neymar “the best” player in the world in recent months, after the striker spearheaded his country’s early qualification for next year’s World Cup.
The 25-year-old Barcelona forward has scored six goals so far in qualifying to help Brazil become the first team to qualify behind host Russia, which gets an automatic berth.
Neymar also inspired Barcelona to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League, scoring twice and setting up another in a 6-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain.
This came after Barcelona lost the first leg 4-0 and was counted out by most.
“In the last four months, the best is Neymar,” Brazil coach Tite said in an interview Friday on Sao Paulo-based Radio Bandeirantes.
Tite qualified that by saying “over a 10-year period” Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona star Lionel Messi have been the world’s best.
Brazil has won all eight of its World Cup qualifiers since Tite took over last year. The key match came last month when Tite named Neymar captain in a 3-0 win against Paraguay.
Neymar, who has 52 goals in 77 games for Brazil, responded well.
“I told him I wanted him to feel comfortable in that role,” Tite said, adding that Neymar replied: “`You can count on me. I’m ready.”’
Tite, whose full name is Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, picks France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Portugal as the main World Cup threats from Europe.
Tite has talked of training in Europe in the run-up to the World Cup, and he said Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza has told him he has similar plans.
Argentina, however, is struggling to qualify with Messi sitting out a four-match international ban imposed by FIFA for insulting a linesman in a qualifier against Chile.
“Regardless of this, he (Bauza) has a quality squad,” Tite said. “One of the best in the world.”